5 Things to Remember When Working With Students After a School Shooting
Within this school year, our country has endured multiple shootings and incidents of mass violence. Several of these have occurred in schools and have taken the lives of young people. Just as students are beginning to recover, news breaks of another unimaginable tragedy. On May 18, the nation learned about the school shooting at Santa Fe High School, which took 10 lives and left others injured. While we honor and remember those who were lost or affected, students around the country return to school on Monday. Some students will carry on as usual in these next few days and weeks, but other students will return to school while still feeling the impact of last week’s event.
Anxiety is an issue which can affect people of all ages and all walks of life. Whether the event happened in a nearby school or in a different part of the country, school shootings can ignite nerves, anxiety and the feeling of uncertainty in students.
As students return to school, here are five things to remember when working with students after a school shooting:
1. Let students know it’s OK to feel scared, and they should not feel guilty for feeling that way. Students may see political posts or articles from people trying to diminish their concerns and fears. Remind students although we do not want them to have nerves about being in school, their feelings are real and valid.
2. Direct students to places which they can speak to a counselor. Most schools have counselors and crisis workers who are trained to work with students who need support following tragic events. It is imperative for school personnel to know who to call and where students should go to seek this support; they should also follow-up to ensure the students were seen. Some students may prefer an anonymous hotline or textline when seeking support. Schools should have local and national crisis line information posted.
3. Avoid descriptive or excessive discussion of the tragedy. Sitting in a classroom where teachers and students are talking about a traumatic event can be grueling for students with anxiety. Students are already exposed to vivid discussions about recent events in their homes, standing in line at the store and in waiting rooms. Right now, it can be hard to go on social media, turn on the television or even open the browser on the computer without being exposed to anxiety-provoking pictures and headlines. Efforts to avoid classroom discussion of recent events can circumvent stress or panic for students experiencing mental health issues. If a classroom discussion is necessary, it is best to give a “trigger warning” and allow students to go to an alternate location. Although the use of “trigger warnings” is sometimes criticized or joked about, they can be vital for those with anxiety or mental health issues.
4. Inform students of precautions or steps the school is taking for safety. Even if school personnel cannot disclose specific actions the school is taking to prevent violence, a calm reassurance that faculty, staff and administrators are addressing the recent issue lets students know that their safety and concerns are being recognized.
5. Be lenient on initial assignments, classwork and due dates. A student’s anxiety in school may impede his/her ability to focus, and too much stress or stimulation can be overwhelming. Measures can be taken to decrease stress on students after a tragedy. Tests can be offered either during class or after school. Notes from class can be available online if students had difficulties focusing and completing work during class. Deadlines can be pushed a few days. Although schools and teachers are under pressure to meet difficult standards, the well-being and mental health of students is far more important.
Personally, my anxiety disorder developed after a school shooting in 2012, and although I was in college, and it occurred 100 miles from while I lived, I still experienced fear for months. If you work with students or young people, your understanding and compassion in the next several weeks will be instrumental for those experiencing anxiety, fear or nerves about being in school. You have the power to provide a sense of security and support for a vulnerable but resilient population.
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